What is an Indigenous Cultural Heritage Policy?

A policy is a set of guidelines, rules or directions that can help people to decide on a course of action. An ICH policy provides guidance on how to manage and caretake a community’s ICH. It may include statements about cultural values, laws and protocols concerning cultural heritage, definitions of heritage and an inventory of significant heritage belongings, along with rules and approaches to protecting it.

Good ICH policies are accessible to communities, governments, educational institutions, the public, compliance and enforcement professionals, researchers, heritage professionals, development proponents and others who live, work and play in an Indigenous community’s territory.

This section prompts toolkit users to consider the following questions:

  • Why is it important to you to protect your ICH?
  • What is one way your ancestors protected their culture?
  • If you had to create one policy for your community’s ICH, what would it be?
  • How could a policy you create help others learn how to interact with your community’s ICH?

Why Is an ICH Policy Important?

It is important for Indigenous communities and Nations to have policies in place to guide ICH stewardship in their territories, and to communicate the history and value of ICH to potential developers, researchers and other external parties. ICH policies can also be tools used to protect Indigenous rights by using them to inform decision-making and land and resource management.

Key lessons for creating an ICH policy

  • Work collaboratively with other communities or Nations, where possible, for strength and to draw on each other’s resources and work.
  • Having broad heritage policies is a good idea, but developing management plans for specific aspects of ICH is also important.
  • Even without a policy in place, having a document or guidelines stating the community or Nation’s position on working with researchers, developers and external partners on projects that impact ICH is a good first step.